Breaking Into The Department Store

Mac the Moose stands on the edge of Moose Jaw.
Mac the Moose stands on the edge of Moose Jaw. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day, while in high school, while walking in downtown Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (yes that is a real place), my friend Glen Mueller and I broke into the Met Department Store. Perhaps ‘broke in’ is misleading. We walked by the store and one of us pulled on the door for fun – and it opened. This was many years ago at a time when stores still closed on Sunday.

It was a very surreal experience. Suddenly we were transported into a storehouse of riches. We could not believe our luck. Looking back I am slightly embarrassed that we did not just turn around and walk out, but at the time the temptation was too great.

The problem was, we panicked. We had no idea what was going on and were quite sure that we were not supposed to be left alone in our treasure trove of riches.

We stole a watch.

Amateurs.

We had the entire store at our disposal and we stole a watch. We almost didn’t do that much, we were so frightened. I cannot remember what happened to that watch but I’m pretty sure it was all Glen’s idea.

I have often reflected on how this memory is like life. How many opportunities missed, how many times have we been given a bit of light, only to squander it because of fear and desperation? How many times have I turned left when I should have turned right?

There are usually reasons why I make the wrong choices. Most of those reasons begin with, “It was easier to…” or “but I really want to!”. Like many of us my natural propensity is to take shortcuts or do was is easiest. Real change or real opportunity usually takes real work and it is easier to give the appearance of effort without putting in the hard time needed to move forward.

There is no magic pill.

There are a few very true statements about change that I remind patients from time to time. Change usually takes a great deal longer than we imagine. It also isn’t usually as drastic as we assume either. Last, but certainly not least, change isn’t always measurable or even immediately noticable. Take for example, a decision to go on antidepressents. The magic does not ordinarily kick in the first hour or first day. Often you don’t feel any better even after the first week. One day you come in to my office and I ask you how things have been and you admit that you feel “a little bit better”. That is how antidepressents work. They aren’t supposed to make you stoned, aren’t supposed to drastically impact your day. That is like change.

You can say the same thing for battling depression, or dealing with anxiety, or processing trauma. In fact you can use these axioms for much of life in general. Real life is usually, well it’s usually kind of boring. Few decisions radically affect our present unless they are bad decisions. Good things come to those who get up in the morning. Who get dressed. Who try. Who work at it. Who persevere.

Who do the right thing day after day after day.

Casual Friday – Lessons From Life

Beck - "Loser"I really like redheads. That has little to do with this blog but I thought you should know.

Many years ago, while in grade eight, I briefly dated a redhead named Lynn. She dumped me after a three weeks, telling me that God told her to break up with me. Even God doesn’t want you to date me. That was many years ago and to this day we remain great friends.

Lynn loves to travel. She and her husband Phil have been all over the world, but they love Israel the most. Don’t ask me why; I prefer the Caribbean anytime but that’s her deal, so mazel tov. Once when they were in the holy land someone offered her husband ten camels for her. I don’t know a great deal about camels but even I understand that this must be a hefty price. If you talk to Lynn she will, from time to time, remind you that she is a ‘ten-camel woman’. And why not, she has proof.

Most of us are not ten-camel people. We watch television and see beautiful people running down beaches and kissing under the moonlight, and down deep we are convinved that we don’t measure up. We are ugly people. We are the losers. We don’t have big boats or businesses, we don’t look good in a Speedo, we aren’t great singers or dancers or poets. We are only regular people with too much cellulite and not enough collagen.

Royal Soucy was a neighbour of mine. He was like a tree trunk with teeth. Royal was a professional body builder who had won several prestigious competitions including “Mr. Saskatchewan” a few times. I would tease Royal that with a name like “Royal Soucy” he had to be tough. But I would not tease him too much. I was afraid he would eat me if I made him too mad. Royal was a cop. Royal was French. There are legends around Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan about the policeman who would break up bar brawls single-handedly. The day I moved in to the neighbourhood we were unloading and I saw our neighbor on his roof shingling. Let me describe this for you; he looked like a Muscle Magazine cover. He was massive. Huge. Totally cut and only wearing shorts, sweating like some Greek god roofing his villa. Then my wife said, “I have a great idea. Why don’t you go help that guy with his roof. You could take off your shirt and get a good tan and get to know him.” So naive… Samson and Captain Chicken Wings, doing the roof together.

Growing up I was never a person who was quick to take his shirt off. Some people are blessed with pectoral genetics, I never was. Now that I’m in my forties it’s a little easier being the slim guy in the midst of a group of men struggling with weight, but growing up I was embarrassed.

I don’t like losing my hair. It’s a stupid vanity thing, but I can’t seem to get over it. It’s a constant reminder that I don’t look like I’d like to, that at this point I probably won’t be a model. Yes, I tell myself, that’s the only reason I’m not a model.

We used to have a rat named Mr. Bigglesworth. People thought he was disgusting. We loved him. Rats are smarter than most animals and we could let him out and he would pretend to pounce me, sleep on my chest, play a rat version of catch. On the downside, he had no bowel control so that whole running around thing rarely ended well. People would comment how he was almost cute, except for his long ugly tail. I would remind them that this wasn’t Mr. B’s fault, we all have parts we are not proud of.

It is one thing to squint in the mirror. It’s another thing altogether when that shame reaches deeper into our hearts. Ruined self-esteem, poor self-image, feelings of worthlessness. Shame is a huge thing. The more I look into it the more I am coming to realize that it can be one of the most destructive issues in our lives. Most of us carry around a backpack of failures, mistakes, and missed opportunities. We wear labels that we cannot seem to shake – fat, divorced, whore, loser, stupid, bald, old, pathetic, poor, alone, ugly, fag…

Shame is the experience of feeling defective at the core of your being. We feel guilty about our mistakes. Shame is the experience of feeling that you as a person ARE A MISTAKE.

With shame there is no way of making amends or correcting the wrong. Because the wrong is you. I have been insecure about myself most of my life but like many of you I am tired of feeling inadequate. I’m done apologizing for being an extrovert, or ADHD, or opinionated. I no longer am willing to try to fit in at the expense of my self-esteem. I tell clients that the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem, it’s self acceptance. Accepting ourselves with all our warts and wrinkles and issues. Learning to love ourselves in spite of the things about ourselves we don’t like, not because of the things we do.

That’s a hell of a goal, isn’t it?